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Procol Harum - A Salty Dog CD (album) cover


Procol Harum


Crossover Prog

3.58 | 234 ratings

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4 stars Nearly a Masterpiece

Procol Harum's third album, 1969's A Salty Dog, proved that the brilliance of the prior year's Shine on Brightly (which I gave five stars) was no fluke. If anything, this album is even more focused and powerful, and certainly more broad in what it attempts to achieve. Only two slightly mediocre songs drag this one down; otherwise, it's pretty close to perfect.

The title track opens the album - a somewhat risky move, as it's clearly a ballad, and a pretty lengthy one at that. With watery sound effects,seagulls chirping, a melodramatic string arrangement (keyboard players Gary Brooker and Matthew Fisher composed all their own orchestral arrangements, by the way), and a simple yet vivid lyrical portrait (Keith Reid, the band's lyricist, is one of the finest lyric writers in rock history, in my opinion) of a sea captain, Procol Harum produce a stunning masterpiece with this song. Even better is the less obvious "Milk of Human Kindness" which follows it -- on the surface a pretty basic blues song, but arranged brilliantly with piano and lead guitar bouncing off each other, and BJ Wilson providing a novel, dramatic start/stop drum part. "Too Much Between Us" is a bit low-key and one of the album's weaker tracks, but "The Devil Came From Kansas" turns a folky melody into a full-blown loud doom number, with Robin Trower's lead guitar pushing it even further over the edge. "Boredom" ends side one, a Matthew Fisher piece with acoustic guitar, gentle hand percussion, and a nagging recorder melody -- about as far from "Kansas" as you can get. Keith Reid's lyrics about ennui and boredom almost feel cheerful in this context.

A big shocker opens side two -- the stark country blues of "Juicy John Pink" (by Trower, with lyrics by Reid), with little other than Trower's Hendrix-inspired guitar and Gary Brooker's vocal to carry it along. And to go from that into the symphonic drama of Fisher's "Wreck of the Hesperus" is even more shocking. Probably the most elaborately produced piece here, "Hesperus" seems to be of a piece with "A Salty Dog" in its maritime theme. "All This and More" is a pretty uneventful ballad, a disappointment in the midst of an impressive streak. Next is "Crucifixion Lane", a tough, soulful blues number sung by Robin Trower (unfortunately) in a raspy croak of a voice. It's a bit jarring after hearing Brooker and Fisher's superior voices for the rest of the album, but overall it's still a good track, further adding to the album's stunning diversity. Last but not least, we have a third Fisher composition, the excellent "Pilgrim's Progress" - an organ-based ballad seemingly similar to "Whiter Shade of Pale", but about halfway through, the song shifts into an elongated coda led by an upbeat piano riff that ends the album on a happy note.

Though this is often considered Procol Harum's masterpiece, I still prefer Shine on Brightly, but this album is still essential for those wishing to get into the band, and the title track, "The Devil Came From Kansas", and "Wreck of the Hesperus" are all key songs in the development of progressive rock. The album is confident and focused, even as it tackles an impressively diverse array of musical styles.

HolyMoly | 4/5 |


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